Jul 5 2010
Once upon a time, in a winter wonderland called Melbourne, there was a lady called Tubbymistress and a tapas-slash-jamon restaurant called Portello Rosso. Their long-awaited rendezvous took place on an icy Saturday night in June – not so much a meeting of minds as a meeting of empty stomach with Spanish-inspired food …Portello Rosso
15 Warburton Lane (off Little Bourke St), Melbourne VIC
Portello Rosso is tucked down a laneway off one of Melbourne’s ‘little’ streets, but it’s a cinch to find. One moment, I was shivering in a skirt and woolen tights, heels clicking against the cobblestones on Warburton Lane; the next, I was inside this inviting, timber-accented hive, waiting to hear if a table was available, feeling snug and a little bit distracted by the list of raciones on large blackboard near the entrance. There’s something about MoVida Next Door that attracts me more in summer than winter – perhaps it’s the ceiling fans, the carefree Spanish groove late on a hot Friday night; maybe it’s my lack of tolerance for the prospect of queuing in winter* – but this bi-level warehouse-style slashie felt like the ideal canvas for sharing a few bites to eat right there and then. It felt warm. Comforting. And sadly for us, it was booked out on this Saturday night.
Thankfully, Portello Rosso has a back-up plan for two stragglers like us. We were shown upstairs to the mezzanine and seated side-by-side on the communal bench that lined the balcony, a great vantage point with a bird’s eye view of the restaurant. The waitress was quick to warn us that the space was tight, presumably to guard against any ill will should we change our minds and complain – or worse, condemn it to print in a food blog – but it was fine. Nobody hip-and-shouldered us in the back as they walked past; the only conversation I was aware of was our own. We had a seat, and were content.
The menu is littered with treats that are designed to be shared (except if you’re eyeing off dessert and have the appetite and inclination to go solo). Our waiter advised us to order in one hit, to keep the food coming. We obliged.
Round 1: Tapas
First up, the baked half-shell Hervey Bay scallops with citrus and herb butter ($4 each); the barbequed half-quail marinated in pomegranate molasses, cinnamon and orange blossom ($5 each); and spiced pork meatballs in rich tomato salsa ($11).
The scallops hit the bench in quick time, looking as pretty as the planter of geraniums on the windowsill – one each, to kick-start the night. The scallop gave my tastebuds a light work-out without blowing my mind: subtle without that gorgeous punch of fleshy scallop-y sweetness; pleasant without being really memorable. The quail arrived next, a small meaty morsel of joy with a sweet, sticky marinade that ensured it was finger-licking good – so good that Tubbymaster named it an early contender for dish of the night. The meatballs were nice, but would have been that much better if I had a piece of bread to mop up the tomato-ey juices. Even so, the dish packed a satisfying punch, steeling me for a round of raciones that would knock me out in two seconds flat.
Round 2: Raciones
Two worthy contendahs stepped up to the plate:
- Duck breast on a bed of rocket, with cherry tomatoes, orange and walnuts (pictured, right)
- Chargrilled scotch fillet and heirloom tomatoes atop smashed potatoes, sprinkled with fried shallots.
Our round of tapas was great, but the raciones punched in a different weight class – they were arguably less Spanish, but in a heavier division all the same. Presented on wooden chopping boards, the scotch fillet and duck dishes were both texture-dense, flavour-rich and fabulous, causing me to use my fork as a shovel for the next half an hour. If I had to choose, I’d probably give the nod to the duck. Each mouthful was a joy: the duck’s sweetness lifted by the cherry tomatoes and orange, the crunch of the walnuts punctuating the dish with a nutty exclamation mark.
Round 3: Dessert
We finished our feast with the churros. The Portello Rosso version was a golden tangle of snakes and a small dish of chocolate sauce atop a wooden board. The churros were divine, better than those I gobbled down at Movida Next Door on the weekend: they were pull-apart soft with a sugary, crunchy exterior, unfortunately let down by a dipping sauce that seemed too thin. Instead of thick, voluptuous sauce – the kind that slowly runs down the donut and smothers your tongue with velvety goodness – it was slightly watery.
TUBBYMISTRESS SAYS: Portello Rosso seems to have the sharing-is-caring thing down pat. Cosy and warm, it’s the perfect antidote to a Melbourne winter – a pair of designer tracky-dacks that won’t cost you and your pals/date/unemployed sister a fortune. Its Spanish-inspired food is ready-made for the Australian palate, dished up in a funky little space that’s more restaurant than watering hole. Nice.
* Not saying Portello Rosso is better than MoVida Next Door, it’s just different. MoVida, in all its guises, kicks backside – and plenty of it. We only had to wait 10 minutes for a table on Saturday night. Not bad!